Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One Comment on “Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

  1. Pingback: People Behind a Stronger Coast: Randy Dettmers | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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